I was six years old, with my seventh birthday on the horizon in a short two months, when Jurassic Park roared its way into theaters on June 11th, 1993. My brother would be turning two that weekend. So much time has passed and yet I can still remember so much about that time of my life with vivid clarity. I remember leaving the theater with a new favorite movie. I remember going to the local Wal-mart, one which I still go to though it has been over-hauled multiple times, and getting every Jurassic Park action figure, vehicle and dinosaur I could get my hands on. I devoured that film. It became almost an obsession. I immediately decided upon a career path that would find me as a paleontologist, digging for bones in the arid Montana desert. I picked up a paperback copy of Michael Crichton’s novel and powered my way through it, asking my parents to explain some of the more technical jargon. Jurassic Park was a milestone in my young life and the original film still stands in my personal favorite film top-three alongside Spielberg’s other summer opus, Jaws, and Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas (which only true manly men could possibly appreciate.)
In the lead-up to the release of Jurassic World, practically twenty-two years to the day since seeing Spielberg’s Jurassic Park on screen, I slowly started to reconcile the part of myself that was obsessed with the original film with the person I have become today. I obviously did not follow through with my paleontology career path, although I have many times visited the paleontology hall at the Houston Museum of Natural Science with a childlike feeling of awe and wonder. But I still love Jurassic Park, and the part of me that can embrace the fun that such a movie brings out in a young kid is still alive and well within my soul. This is evidenced by the fact that I have spent plenty of time assembling and playing around with the recent LEGO Jurassic World sets and video game. Something about a theme park filled with dinosaurs simply tickles the interior of my soul.
But as I’ve grown and matured in ways that don’t relate to my appreciation for block-based building sets and video games, I have taken the time to look at Jurassic Park as a film and tried to utilize my adult understanding of narrative structure, tropes and schemes, genre conventions and critical analysis into an organized treatise on why, despite its flaws, Jurassic World is not nearly the vapid, cash-grab sequel that many reviewers have pegged it as. If anything, the DNA of its construction is much closer in spirit to the 1993 original than either of the two previous sequels.
Critics have not been overly kind to Colin Trevorrow’s sequel. Devin Faraci of BirthMoviesDeath wrote that the film is “a generic bore” and that “If the script for Jurassic World wasn’t so terrible the movie itself might be a fascinating failure.” Drew Dietsch at CHUD remarked that the film is “a remake that has deluded itself into thinking it’s a sequel.” An overabundance of writers have wrung their hands about the film, complaining about a lack of new ideas or lamenting that the ideas presented in the film are either uninspired or out of place. I feel like this is part of the learned culture of immediately dismissing sequels. It is easy to immediately write off sequels. Generally speaking they seem like a bad idea most of the time. We get flashes of brilliance from time to time, whenever someone like Christopher Nolan comes along with something like The Dark Knight to evolve the story they started with their original installment or when James Cameron brought something new to the table with Aliens. Still, there is a lot that has to go through a person’s mind in order to greet the fourth entry in any franchise without some measure of skepticism.
But in a world where the fifth entry of the Fast and Furious franchise came out of nowhere to redefine the series and wind up being the best installment of them all, is it really so hard to go in with an open mind when viewing something like Jurassic World, a film that, by all accounts, seems to be a labor of love by filmmakers who truly embraced the original Jurassic Park as a modern classic?
Some critics were able to look at the film objectively and recognize that it works quite well, with Drew McWeeny of HitFix saying that Jurassic World “may be the best entire movie in the series.”
McWeeny is quick to point out that while other installments of the franchise might feature stronger individual moments, overall Jurassic World is the most firmly put together of all the films and I would argue the same, mainly because this film is the first since the original to embrace the tone of its own internalized world-building.
The Lost World is not a terrible film, in fact I have come to appreciate it more and more over the years on repeat viewings. The scene where the Tyrannosaurs knock the accordion trailer over the cliff is one of Spielberg’s finest action set pieces. This goes back to McWeeny stating that other films may have stronger individual scenes but don’t come together as a whole as well as Jurassic World does. Part of what The Lost World stumbles with is the tone that it wants to strike. Spielberg wants to play out a thrilling survival trek on film but the seriousness of the peril is undercut when you get a scene as ludicrous as the one where a velociraptor is defeated by the power of teenage gymnastics. Jurassic Park III, while a fun jaunt, also suffers from tone issues as well as the infamous “Alan!” scene.
Jurassic World is very much aware of what sort of beast it is. Colin Trevorrow wisely embraces the b-movie quality that has always been the baseline DNA of the franchise. Jurassic Park had the same blending of spellbound awe and creature chaos that is prevalent in Jurassic World. Jurassic World simply suffers by virtue of being beholden to Jurassic Park to exist in any way, both within the context of the film itself and as a summer blockbuster. The meta-commentary of corporate driven initiatives resulting in a demand for bigger, bolder forms of entertainment operates on several levels. Of course this is the natural course the park would take within the context of the narrative. It just makes sense. It would turn into a branded park the way Six Flags or Disney have. Of course companies would love to see their brand sponsoring exhibits. It just makes sense. But as I have made clear, we are twenty-two years removed from the original Jurassic Park, and as such nobody in the audience is truly going to be happy with the same old thing. That’s why we have a genetically engineered dinosaur that creeps into true “movie monster” territory and a villain who wants to use raptors for military purposes because he never watched Aliens and doesn’t understand how terrible an idea it really is. The writers of this film truly delivered a film that works organically within the cinematic world presented in the previous film while giving the corporate overlords at Universal Studios a film that is very much what the movie is actively speaking against. This film is a mobius strip of cinematic commentary.
Jurassic Park III established the pack dynamics of the raptors in such a way that Chris Pratt’s character being able to assert dominance and train them feels believable. The original novel by Michael Crichton had Hammond and Wu speaking about genetic modification as the endgame for In-Gen, so why are people pushing back regarding this film? Objectively speaking, this is just as able a film as Jurassic Park was, simply with the stumbling block of not having done it first. It is a strong film, one that has a few flaws, but ultimately a strong film. This isn’t even qualified in a “yeah, but…” way that I spoke about when talking about Avengers : Age of Ultron. This is a film that is good in its own right with regard to the genre conventions it is playing in. Saying otherwise really just comes off as petty.
In all honesty, this is one of the most competently constructed movies of the year. I stand by that statement and hope that others can recognize where this film succeeds where others have failed so drastically. Let us hope that the trend continues with the inevitable fifth film.